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Study Says Crashes Due to Pilot Error Increasing

August 25, 1985

DALLAS (AP) _ Pilot error is blamed in an increasing number of fatal crashes involving airliners and federal investigators are at a loss to explain why such mistakes occur, according to a published report Sunday.

Pilot error is involved in two of every three fatal accidents involving major U.S. airlines, the Dallas Morning News reported in a copyright story.

An internal report by the Federal Aviation Administration says ″the percentage of accidents associated with operator error has been steadily increasing over the past several years.″

Before the 1960s, mechanical failure accounted for most airplane accidents, experts said.

The report also noted that ″existing accident and incident data do not show why pilots make errors.″

Pilot performance ″may be one of the last frontiers in aviation safety,″ said Jim Burnett, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

″We have been more successful in dealing with problems that have to do with hardware than we have in dealing with problems that have to do with humans,″ Burnett said.

The FAA has begun work on what its officials say is the agency’s most comprehensive examination of human performance in aviation safety.

The plan, scheduled for funding in 1987, promises its research ″will influence nearly every aspect of air transportation, including safety, reliability and efficiency in general as well as commercial aviation activities,″ according to an internal FAA report.

″The weakest link in our system that we’re operating now is the human judgment factor,″ said Dallas pilot Manton Fain, who was a flight captain for a major airline until April, when he reached the mandatory cutoff age for that position. He continues to fly as a flight engineer.

One debate in industry circles is whether the pilot should continue to have the primary say in most aspects of operating a flight, the News reported. The safety board recommended during the mid-1970s that the FAA transfer some authority from pilots to air traffic controllers in areas such as landings, but the aviation agency rejected the proposal.

Gary Babcock, a United Airlines co-pilot and the chairman of the human performance committee of the Air Line Pilots Association, said most pilots welcome the new emphasis on human performance research and aviation safety.

″In the last 10 years, pilots have really begun to address the situation,″ said Babcock. ″We now admit that pilots make mistakes, that we’re human like everyone else.″

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